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DOE’s Nano-centric Research Centers Set To Fuel New Era in Nano Collaborative

Nano World News interviews Jim Bustillo, assistant director of the just-opened Molecular Foundry, part of DOE’s $500-million push for multi-disciplined nano research.

Part 1 of 2 Installments

(Read Part 2 of Bustillo’s interview here)

2007 will mark the dawn of a new era in government/private sector collaboration in many promising areas of nanoscience. By the end of this year, the U.S. Department of Energy will put money, expert staff, sparkling new facilities and cutting-edge equipment into the hands of thousands of public, university and private researchers under a bold new nano-research partnership program. The total DOE nanoscience investment, which could rise to $500 million over the next few years, will open new doors in nanoscience and leverage discoveries from the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).

Molecular Foundry Building
Molecular Foundry Building

“Thanks to NNI, we have a lot of building blocks for nanotechnology. Now, in 2007, the trend is to integrate a number of areas of exciting nano-based research,” Jim Bustillo, assistant director of the DOE’s Molecular Foundry, told Nano World News, in an exclusive interview.

The Molecular Foundry is one of five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs) opening nationwide between 2005 and 2007. For its part, the Molecular Foundry, located just north of Silicon Valley at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab adjacent to the University of California at Berkeley, will offer research partners unprecedented access to (a) clean room facilities, (b) high-powered computing for R&am;D, modeling and simulations, (c) a wide array of highly-sensitive (and highly expensive) equipment, and (d) top-notch nanoscience researchers in composite materials, biology, chemistry, fabrication and other sectors.

To commemorate the opening of the Molecular Foundry, Nanotech 2007 will host speakers at the event, and will offer select attendees an in-person tour of the state-of-the-art research facility. The Molecular Foundry is already working with leading universities and Silicon Valley firms in high-tech computing and biotech.

Nano World News offers readers a preview, and speaks with Jim Bustillo in this special two-part interview to get a closer look at the Molecular Foundry’s valuable resources, expertise and spirit – all geared to push the bounds of multi-disciplined nanoscience research.

A Nano World News interview with James Bustillo

Assistant Director, The Molecular Foundry DOE’s Nanoscale Science Research Center

Today’s Nanoscale Research Climate

Q: Early 2007 seems like a remarkable time for The Molecular Foundry, and DOE’s commitment to nanoscience researchers. How would you describe the times we’re in?
Bustillo: This is a very important time because many of the benefits we envision from nanotechnology will come from synthesized materials. Bringing together difference disciplines and processes across the sciences will truly bring new discoveries. And, as for at the [Molecular] Foundry, as you know we are located at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. We are one of five new DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), which were created for the sole purpose of bringing our vast resources into collaborations for nanoscience with university and private industry, to investigate the synthesis, processing, fabrication and analysis of a wide array of potentially valuable nanoscale sciences, and to export that knowledge to the scientific community at large.

Q: DOE’s NSRC program appears to be a massive follow-on commitment to take the next step in nanoscience research, and do a bit more collaborative work with schools and private companies. How would you describe what’s going on with the NSRCs?
Bustillo: The NSRC program is truly exciting. Those researchers familiar with NNI should really take a very close look at what is going on here, and they will understand just how deep the DOE commitment is to nanotechnology science.

For example, the NSRCs represent the first time DOE has put together a user facility that brings together under one roof inter-disciplinary research in the fields of materials, biology, chemistry, modeling and manufacturing to be applied to a wide variety of new nanoscale materials.

Resources Available from The Molecular Foundry

Q: The Molecular Foundry offers specialized expertise? Would you describe that?
Bustillo: At the Molecular Foundry, we house six facilities and offer access to a variety of affiliated laboratories in support of users as well as the in-house research programs.

Details on The Molecular Foundry’s 6 areas of expertise, skills and tools appear below.

Inorganic:
CVD synthesis, nanotube deposition, suspension and manipulation, structural and electrical characterization, colloidal synthesis, optical characterization of nanomaterials
Organic:
Instruments and techniques for the study of “soft” materials (including organic molecules, macromolecules, and their assemblies such as component synthesis, self-assembly studies). Facilities include glove boxes, polymerization reactors, and high-end instrumentation for purification and analysis of both small organic molecules and macromolecules.
Nanofabrication:
High-resolution electron-beam nanolithography, high-resolution plasma etching, nanoimprint lithography, optical lithography, thin-film deposition, wet chemical processing, and thermal evaporation and sputtering
Biological nanostructures:
Mammalian and microbial cell culture, protein expression and purification, biopolymer synthesis (natural and biomimetic), biocompatible coating of nanomaterials, biological imaging, phage display of peptide libraries, genetic engineering of cell lines for materials integration, combinatorial library synthesis and screening
Theory:
First principles for structural, electronic and spin-dependent properties, molecular dynamics, modeling and measurement methods for optical and related excited-state phenomena
Imaging and Manipulation:
Scanning probe characterization, electrostatic AFM characterization of liquid films and nanodroplets, quantitative AFM and mechanical characterization of surfaces, polymers and macromolecular films (including biomaterials), and scanning and transmission electron microscopy and spectroscopy.

Q: What research gaps does The Molecular Foundry intend to fill for users?
Bustillo: An excellent example is Intel. They are working with us to develop novel organic polymers. We provide them access to a state-of-the-art novel facility – an entire lab is here that does nothing but make new organic molecules. We have e-beam lithography equipment they can use to develop new recipes and new molecules that could meet their anisotropic resist profile needs. While Intel might be able to do that work in their own labs, it is often very difficult to bring new materials into a semiconductor lab. So, frankly, it could be more efficient and less disruptive to their current operations to do it here.

And, aside from our own DOE facilities, we also facilitate access for approved projects to other co-located DOE user facilities such as the Advanced Light Source, the National Center for Electron Microscopy, and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center. The ALS, for example, is one of the world's brightest sources of ultraviolet and soft x-ray beams-and the world's first third-generation synchrotron light source in its energy range; the ALS makes previously impossible studies possible.

Q: So, to be clear. For all that the Foundry wants to encourage collaboration, you are still focused on doing real science, and not simply outsourcing services, is that right?
Bustillo: That’s right. Anything that has already been routinely done before is really not a good fit for us. We’re really focused on exploring new science and techniques in all these areas. Our current staff is 35 research staff, and in 2007 we plan to grow to at least 50. We want to push the science, develop IP and publish papers.

Read the next edition of the Nano World News for Part 2 of our Exclusive Interview with The Molecular Foundry.

(Read Part 2 of Bustillo’s interview here)

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